I'll be moving house in a few months and thus have been refraining from stocking up too heavily on staples. Instead, I have vowed make my way through the miscellaneous packets and jars and cans in my cupboards, which is sometimes fun and sometimes an effort. A few of those items have been lingering on the shelf for good reason and it's getting down to the worst of the bunch. Soon, I will have to get 'creative' with such uninspiring ingredients as canned corn and cut green beans (I hate canned vegetables - why are these on my shelf?) There's also an alarmingly large stash of pasta to wade through.
As a modern American living in a city that affords me a vast array of food choices, I can usually have whatever I feel like eating at any given moment. I rarely have to adjust my palate to accommodate a lack of something. Worst case scenario is that it's a cold, rainy night and I don't feel like going out to pick up the kind of cheese that I would prefer to grate over my pasta, so I have to make do with what's already in the fridge. But for the most part, I have the amazing privilege of eating pretty much anything I want to, when I want to.
Working with my cupboard challenge has shown me how accustomed I've become to this unlimited choice and how it has actually, strangely enough, narrowed my options by keeping me in the safe zone of my own predilections and cravings. It's been challenging but I'm starting to appreciate being pushed to explore beyond my limited appetite and stretched to figure out how to make something with so-so appeal seem appetizing. What can I do to this box of butternut squash soup to make it something I want to eat? Ah yes, maybe a plop of yogurt and a drizzle of truffle oil. Or some fresh minced cilantro and chili. Or even just a few springs of fresh thyme from the plant on the windowsill and a handful croutons for crunch.
Limits can feel restrictive, but they also present new opportunities and encourage creative thinking. Wendell Berry is often quoted as saying "The mind that is not baffled is not employed" and it's that bafflement, that very act of trying to solve a problem that adds a spark and new possibilities to my routine. So I'm actually grateful for my shrinking pantry and find I'm looking forward to what demands it will bring me next. But seriously, those green beans are going to be a tough one.
(Image: Paul Cézanne)